In this article, we will discuss how to install wrought iron balusters using what I will call the Up-And-Down stair installation method. If you’ve read Part 1 of How to Install Iron Balusters, you already know that the Up-And-Down installation method is not my favorite stair installation method. We recommend either the “Secure” or the “IronPro” methods, explained in Part 1 and Part 3 of How to Install Iron Balusters. However, since it is a widely described way of installing wood and iron balusters, I would be remiss not to include it. For the do-it-yourselfer with no experience or skill in balustrade installation, this may be a good method for you. It is quick and easy and virtually anyone can do it.
The basic stair installation procedures are the same as the other two methods. You can read the detailed information in Part 1, but to paraphrase, the stair treads and/or landing treads and newel posts are installed first.
The differences begin when the handrail is cut and permanently installed between the posts or the walls. The layout is made of the treads or landing shoe and then plumbed up to the bottom of the handrail.
Holes are then drilled into the treads or landing shoe, large enough that the baluster can slip freely into it and ½” deep. In the case of ½” iron balusters, the hole should be drilled to 5/8” diameter.
Next, the holes are drilled into the handrail. These holes should be drilled to be slightly larger so that the baluster can be inserted at an angle before being dropped down into the lower 5/8” hole. For example, when using ½” balusters, the hole diameter is ¾”. The hole must also be deep enough to allow the baluster to slide up into it high enough to clear the tread cap or landing shoe before it is straightened out and dropped into the 5/8” hole. Typically if your baluster extends into the upper hole 1” and the lower hole ½” the depth of the upper hole is 1 ¾” – 2” deep. You can test this while installing your first balusters and drill any of the holes deeper as necessary. Take extreme care not to drill out through the top of the rail. Once you’ve determined how deep you must drill you can mark your bit with some tape to ensure that you don’t go too far.
Now that the holes have been drilled top and bottom you can mark your baluster lengths. Take your first uncut iron baluster, and place it upside down into its 5/8” hole then mark the length by adding about 1” up from the bottom of the stair handrail at the ¾” hole. You will repeat this for all of the iron balusters, and then cut the bottom portion of each to length. You can do this with a sawzall, metal band saw or even a hacksaw.
Now you are ready to install wrought iron balusters into the handrail. First, slip the iron baluster shoe over the baluster (shoes are required in this method of wrought iron baluster installation) and dry fit all of the balusters to make sure that they can all be lifted up and down into place. Once they are dry fit in place, wrap the exposed top of each baluster up to the bottom of the ¾” hole with masking tape. This will ensure that the epoxy or adhesive that you use in the next step of final stair installation will not smear on the finished baluster.
Finally, you remove all of the wrought iron balusters and one at a time, add epoxy or adhesive to the hole in the handrail and the Tread or Shoe Plate. The adhesive should be applied around the entire circumference of the hole leaving about a 1/8” or ¼” gap from the surface. The bottom hole should also have a dab in the center where the baluster will sit. Next, you slide the top of the iron baluster into the hole in the stair handrail, then move it over and down into the lower 5/8” hole. You can add a small dab of adhesive to the bottom corner of the baluster where the baluster shoe will cover. This (in addition to the set screw if it has one) will help to secure the baluster shoe in place.
You simply repeat these steps for each baluster, let them dry as indicated by your epoxy or adhesive, remove the tape on the top end and you are done.
As I’ve mentioned this is not our preferred method of iron baluster installation for several reasons. First, the sizes of the holes required to Up-And-Down the balusters are so large that they do not allow a tight, secure fit. This means that the balusters while adding a decorative and aesthetic aspect to the balustrade, cannot serve their primary function as structural support. Second, because you are inserting a square peg in a round hole (at an angle) the diameter of the hole must be larger than the wrought iron baluster from corner to corner. So each finished baluster has a visible round hole encircling it (while this may be puttied, it is still not a tight fit). Third, the iron balusters themselves are far more likely to become loose or rattle with this method of stair baluster installation because they are held in place by adhesive alone rather than being secured by the wood itself. Finally, the iron balusters can come completely out if they are lifted upward intentionally or accidentally. So, while you may want to use this stair installation method for its simplicity or, because it is the least expensive method to install wrought iron balusters, you should be aware of the issues before you make the decision. With a little more skill (Part 1) or a little more money (Part 3) you will have a far superior and professional-like installation with the other options.
The only limit to your wrought iron baluster and wood handrail design possibilities is your own imagination. Search the Internet, social media, magazines or just use your own creativity to create your own unique wood handrail and iron baluster stair system. Don’t be afraid to mix different iron balusters together within your design.